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Topic: 4G iPod audio quality review

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Old 08-17-2004, 02:03 PM
#1
 
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4G iPod audio quality review

Please choose the appropriate forum for this topic. Thank you. Please choose the appropriate forum for this topic. Thank you. Hi, long time reader first time poster.

The 4th gen iPod sound ROCKS. It's way better than any other previous iPod. Read on to find out why...

I figured I'd offer up my own personal review of the 4th gen iPod's audio quality as many people have been inquiring about it.

First, let's get some necessary stuff out of the way. Am I qualified in any way to offer a "professional" opinion? No way. Should you listen to me? Yes and no - make up your own mind after reading my review. Once again, this is my personal experience and opinion - your milage may and probably will vary.

Reason for Review:
I bought a mini recently and was very dismayed with the sound. I know, I know, there's many of you who cry "but it sounds awesome!" or "you just need better headphones", etc. All things considered, the mini sounded like garbage compared to anything else I had ever used (more on this later). So I returned it after a week to get a 4th gen as I heard some fleeting rumours and comments that it sounded better (especially with EQ). I don't regret this decission to do so at all. Quite simply the 4th gen iPod is the best sounding iPod to date. Is it the *ultimate* DAP sound? Heck no. But it's certainly better than the rest of the iPod's terrible audio quality.

Background/test equipment:
I've been a musician for about 20 years now. I work with an incredible variety of sound equipment and have used many many many mp3 players and headphones and combinations therof (way too many to list). For the purposes of this review I've mainly focused on a comparison of 3rd gen & mini vs. 4th gen - in addition to some general comparisons to other mp3 players on the market. For test headphones I used the stock Apple buds, a pair of Sennheiser MX300 buds, Koss in-ear buds, and my studio headphones - a pair of AKG K240 monitors (600ohm beasts). I purposely chose these 'phones as a general cross representation of what the general public may be using that's similar. The AKG's solely for higher end reference purposes. I also tested the 'pods through a pair of Mission 702 loudspeakers and a pair of Wharfedale 8.2 diamond loudspeakers using a NAD302 amp. Nothing uber-audiophile but certainly a step up from department store low-end. Again, my focus isn't to test how the 4G sounds with audiophile stuff but moreso "realworld" use. For test songs I used a wide variety that accent certain aspects of the audio spectrum. From rock & trance to newage & ambient. Especially bass heavy songs as that's arguably the biggest sound problem with iPods.

UI/Features/Battery/etc.:
I won't cover these as they're widely discussed in many reviews elsewhere. I will however mention at this point that my 4th gen (purchased in Canada) works flawlessly. No LCD problems, no sound issues, etc. My only complaints (and they're minor) are that the scrolling on long track names is somewhat "chunkier" and not as clear as previous generations. Accessing music between tracks when it has to read from the drive now takes a second longer (no big deal). Also, the harddrive seems to be a tad louder than previous generations. I couldn't hear the mini's HD ever and the 3rd gen was pretty quiet. I can clearly hear the 4th gen when within one foot of my head. This is under quiet studio conditions so in realworld application you won't hear it at all. Also, the UI seems to be a bit slower. I suspect the cut down on the scrolling and the reduction in UI speed saves a lot of cpu and thereby saves a lot of battery (theoretical speculation of course). I would put it this way: the 4th gen's UI is heavily optimized to save on battery life. However, it's still more than useable and retains the generally exceptional iPod experience.

Audo Quality:
There is definite improvement. For those thinking it's only improvement you can hear with audiophile gear or the improvement is slight or hard to hear - you're dead wrong. If I may be so bold to say so. The 4th gen is a drastic improvement in sound quality that is easily audible by almost anyone in any listening situation (ie: song & headphone combo). For those wondering if they'll hear the difference let me put it to rest: YOU WILL HEAR THE DIFFERENCE. First I'll talk about the EQ & distortion as this is the number one improvement in sound quality. Many people are wondering if Apple has done away with the distortion issues of the EQ. Quite simply yes. I repeat: EQ DISTORTION IS GONE! Well, almost gone. On all but the rarest bassiest songs you can use the EQ without distortion. I used a ton of heavy bass songs without distortion. With a 3rd gen and especially with a mini, the eq would distort bass badly on many of my test songs. Forget about ever using the dreaded R&B EQ setting - that would turn distortion on into overdrive. With my 4th gen I can listen to 99% of my music now with the R&B EQ on with no distortion. Only the ultimate bass heavy songs will still distort on R&B. You can easily overcome this by using volume adjustment in itunes and turning it down slightly on those rare songs on your ipod. In all, about one or two songs out of every hundred would distort on R&B EQ (this is songs from a wide eclectic cross-genre mix). So, yes the distortion on EQ is largely gone but it'll still show itself on the occassional song (very rare in my testing). Now, let's get to overall NON-EQ'd sound quality. I consider myself an audiophile. Especially in the studio. But for a portable mp3 player I don't expect audiophile - I just want half decent sound. I was dissapointed by the sound of the 3rd gen and the mini (especially the mini). My $100 rio sounded better (way better). All other mp3 players I had tried sounded better. Enter the 4th gen. I must admit that the 4th gen iPod sounds pretty darn good. It's very neutral with a slight overemphasis on the higher end (much like previous iPods). The 4th gen now sports a bit more bottom end and finer detail throughout the spectrum. The high end is toned down slightly while still emphasizing higher end notes clearly. All around the sound is much more rounded and full - balanced if you will. Definitely an improvement. It certainly isn't the utlimate portable sound but it's a far cry better than the previous 'pods. Even moreso over the mini which I consider to be one of the worst mp3 players I've ever heard.

Summary:
At the end of the day the sound is definitely better. Those who don't use EQ won't notice it as much and certainly isn't worth running out and replacing your 3rd gen (I think it's worth replacing your mini though). Those who use EQ, or rather *want* to use EQ but don't currently because of distortion, will notice the most benefit from getting a 4G. The distortion is by and large gone when using the EQ. I must state though, if you're only using the apple buds, then no matter what, the sound is going to suck. At least with a 4th gen it won't suck as bad :P I don't regret getting a 4th gen at all. It addressed the number one complaint I had with Apple & the iPod: sound quality. The 4th gen is pleasing to listen to now and there's no annoying distortion when using the EQ.

Again - your milage is going to vary. Don't flame me if you run out and buy one and still hate the sound or get distortion. Everyone's listening conditions are different.


entica
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Old 08-17-2004, 02:27 PM
#2
 
Junior Lounger
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Garden State
Posts: 48

well i have never used a previous generation ipod....but one thing that i can say is that the sound quality is awsome. I had put on the EQ expecting the distortion that 3rd reviews had mentioned and i did not find them. When i turn up the volume to 100% i noticed that the music was just as crisp. And though many may argue.....the bass provided with the stock earbuds and the bass booster eq is more than enough for the average music listener...i will shell out some money for a new pair of earbuds of course though because i am no longer the "average music listener"
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Old 08-17-2004, 02:30 PM
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albitalia04
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i totally agree with you. the ipod isnt on the top of the game.
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Old 08-17-2004, 03:12 PM
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I suppose the sound quality comparison is all subjective. I wish Apple would list Noise-to-sound ratio for comparison. I have used all but the first iPod, and I still do use them and from a private comparison using Apple Lossless and a nice set of speakers, I haven't noticed significance difference and neither have any others that I have subjected the test unto.
I only use compressed music, so I don't complain about sound quality as long as it isn't killing me.



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Old 09-18-2004, 05:02 AM
#5
 
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Re: 4G iPod audio quality review

Quote:
Originally posted by entica
Please choose the appropriate forum for this topic. Thank you. Please choose the appropriate forum for this topic. Thank you. Hi, long time reader first time poster.

The 4th gen iPod sound ROCKS. It's way better than any other previous iPod. Read on to find out why...

I figured I'd offer up my own personal review of the 4th gen iPod's audio quality as many people have been inquiring about it.

First, let's get some necessary stuff out of the way. Am I qualified in any way to offer a "professional" opinion? No way. Should you listen to me? Yes and no - make up your own mind after reading my review. Once again, this is my personal experience and opinion - your milage may and probably will vary.

Reason for Review:
I bought a mini recently and was very dismayed with the sound. I know, I know, there's many of you who cry "but it sounds awesome!" or "you just need better headphones", etc. All things considered, the mini sounded like garbage compared to anything else I had ever used (more on this later). So I returned it after a week to get a 4th gen as I heard some fleeting rumours and comments that it sounded better (especially with EQ). I don't regret this decission to do so at all. Quite simply the 4th gen iPod is the best sounding iPod to date. Is it the *ultimate* DAP sound? Heck no. But it's certainly better than the rest of the iPod's terrible audio quality.

Background/test equipment:
I've been a musician for about 20 years now. I work with an incredible variety of sound equipment and have used many many many mp3 players and headphones and combinations therof (way too many to list). For the purposes of this review I've mainly focused on a comparison of 3rd gen & mini vs. 4th gen - in addition to some general comparisons to other mp3 players on the market. For test headphones I used the stock Apple buds, a pair of Sennheiser MX300 buds, Koss in-ear buds, and my studio headphones - a pair of AKG K240 monitors (600ohm beasts). I purposely chose these 'phones as a general cross representation of what the general public may be using that's similar. The AKG's solely for higher end reference purposes. I also tested the 'pods through a pair of Mission 702 loudspeakers and a pair of Wharfedale 8.2 diamond loudspeakers using a NAD302 amp. Nothing uber-audiophile but certainly a step up from department store low-end. Again, my focus isn't to test how the 4G sounds with audiophile stuff but moreso "realworld" use. For test songs I used a wide variety that accent certain aspects of the audio spectrum. From rock & trance to newage & ambient. Especially bass heavy songs as that's arguably the biggest sound problem with iPods.

UI/Features/Battery/etc.:
I won't cover these as they're widely discussed in many reviews elsewhere. I will however mention at this point that my 4th gen (purchased in Canada) works flawlessly. No LCD problems, no sound issues, etc. My only complaints (and they're minor) are that the scrolling on long track names is somewhat "chunkier" and not as clear as previous generations. Accessing music between tracks when it has to read from the drive now takes a second longer (no big deal). Also, the harddrive seems to be a tad louder than previous generations. I couldn't hear the mini's HD ever and the 3rd gen was pretty quiet. I can clearly hear the 4th gen when within one foot of my head. This is under quiet studio conditions so in realworld application you won't hear it at all. Also, the UI seems to be a bit slower. I suspect the cut down on the scrolling and the reduction in UI speed saves a lot of cpu and thereby saves a lot of battery (theoretical speculation of course). I would put it this way: the 4th gen's UI is heavily optimized to save on battery life. However, it's still more than useable and retains the generally exceptional iPod experience.

Audo Quality:
There is definite improvement. For those thinking it's only improvement you can hear with audiophile gear or the improvement is slight or hard to hear - you're dead wrong. If I may be so bold to say so. The 4th gen is a drastic improvement in sound quality that is easily audible by almost anyone in any listening situation (ie: song & headphone combo). For those wondering if they'll hear the difference let me put it to rest: YOU WILL HEAR THE DIFFERENCE. First I'll talk about the EQ & distortion as this is the number one improvement in sound quality. Many people are wondering if Apple has done away with the distortion issues of the EQ. Quite simply yes. I repeat: EQ DISTORTION IS GONE! Well, almost gone. On all but the rarest bassiest songs you can use the EQ without distortion. I used a ton of heavy bass songs without distortion. With a 3rd gen and especially with a mini, the eq would distort bass badly on many of my test songs. Forget about ever using the dreaded R&B EQ setting - that would turn distortion on into overdrive. With my 4th gen I can listen to 99% of my music now with the R&B EQ on with no distortion. Only the ultimate bass heavy songs will still distort on R&B. You can easily overcome this by using volume adjustment in itunes and turning it down slightly on those rare songs on your ipod. In all, about one or two songs out of every hundred would distort on R&B EQ (this is songs from a wide eclectic cross-genre mix). So, yes the distortion on EQ is largely gone but it'll still show itself on the occassional song (very rare in my testing). Now, let's get to overall NON-EQ'd sound quality. I consider myself an audiophile. Especially in the studio. But for a portable mp3 player I don't expect audiophile - I just want half decent sound. I was dissapointed by the sound of the 3rd gen and the mini (especially the mini). My $100 rio sounded better (way better). All other mp3 players I had tried sounded better. Enter the 4th gen. I must admit that the 4th gen iPod sounds pretty darn good. It's very neutral with a slight overemphasis on the higher end (much like previous iPods). The 4th gen now sports a bit more bottom end and finer detail throughout the spectrum. The high end is toned down slightly while still emphasizing higher end notes clearly. All around the sound is much more rounded and full - balanced if you will. Definitely an improvement. It certainly isn't the utlimate portable sound but it's a far cry better than the previous 'pods. Even moreso over the mini which I consider to be one of the worst mp3 players I've ever heard.

Summary:
At the end of the day the sound is definitely better. Those who don't use EQ won't notice it as much and certainly isn't worth running out and replacing your 3rd gen (I think it's worth replacing your mini though). Those who use EQ, or rather *want* to use EQ but don't currently because of distortion, will notice the most benefit from getting a 4G. The distortion is by and large gone when using the EQ. I must state though, if you're only using the apple buds, then no matter what, the sound is going to suck. At least with a 4th gen it won't suck as bad :P I don't regret getting a 4th gen at all. It addressed the number one complaint I had with Apple & the iPod: sound quality. The 4th gen is pleasing to listen to now and there's no annoying distortion when using the EQ.

Again - your milage is going to vary. Don't flame me if you run out and buy one and still hate the sound or get distortion. Everyone's listening conditions are different.


entica


well! I've heard both my brother's 3rd gen and my 4th gen ipods.
I've used the same source listening through my koss portapro 2 headphones. To me the 3rd gen sounds quite a bit better than my 4th gen, it has more defined highs and openess. Whad do you think of the iriver h120 sound quality?
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Old 09-18-2004, 09:16 AM
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I have both 1G and 4G. I actually think that 1G sounds better. The sound in 4G is wider, but it sounds like some kind of noise reduction has been done, hence the higher frequency sounds a little muddier but much less noise I must admit, while 1G, IMHO, offer better "what-you-play-is-what-you-hear", the frequency aliasing can be clearly heard in 1G.



1G 10GB & 4G 40GB iPods
Shure e3c & Sony MDR-CD2000
Turtle Beach Santa Cruz sound card
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Old 09-18-2004, 09:18 AM
#7
 
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I have both 1G and 4G. I actually think that 1G sounds better. The sound in 4G is wider, but it sounds like some kind of noise reduction has been done, hence the higher frequency sounds a little muddier but much less noise I must admit, while 1G, IMHO, offer better "what-you-play-is-what-you-hear", the frequency aliasing can be clearly heard in 1G.



1G 10GB & 4G 40GB iPods
Shure e3c & Sony MDR-CD2000
Turtle Beach Santa Cruz sound card
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Old 09-19-2004, 08:08 PM
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Today I bought a 30gb 3rd gen ipod for $250 used with a 4 yr warranty from Best Buy. I hope there's nothing wrong with it cuz I like the look and sound of 3rd gen ipods much better than the 4th. I can't stand that stupid click wheel. what the hell was Apple thinking. It's currently charging, I haven't heard it yet, I hope it's as good as my brothers. I will keep you guys posted!!!

Last edited by swifty; 09-23-2004 at 09:29 PM.
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Old 09-23-2004, 09:27 PM
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My 3rd gen ipod sounds perfect and the controls are perfect as well, but what's wrong with it is its battery. It can only hold a charge of 1 1/2hrs without using the wheel to much. Oh! well! I guess that's what you get when you buy used merchandise. I don't really mind it cuz I bought a 4yr warranty from them and as long as they send it back to Apple for a battery replacement is fine with me. What I don't want is for them to offer me a 4th gen ipod as a replacement, I had one and didn't like at all.
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